North Carolina, long one of the most contested pieces of political turf in America, was trending blue Tuesday as Democrats rode uncertainty about the economy and the Iraq war to a strong showing.
Sen. Barack Obama, a black man from Chicago, was running a more competitive race than any Democrat since Bill Clinton in 1992 -- locked in a tough contest with Republican Sen. John McCain.
Obama's powerful and well-financed grass-roots organization helped lift Democrat Kay Hagan to the U.S. Senate and Beverly Perdue to the governor's office.
The Obama effect also fueled a strong Democratic showing up and down the ballot, with the Democrats retaining control of the legislature and picking up a congressional seat.
"The last time the Democrats pulled the hat trick was 1960," when Gov. Terry Sanford, Sen. B. Everett Jordan and President Kennedy won, said Gary Pearce, a long-time Democratic strategist. Whether Obama wins North Carolina or not, he said, "the fact that he came close is a huge change."
North Carolina has a tradition of divided government, sending Democrats to Raleigh and Republicans to Washington. No state in the nation had closer margins of victory in races for president, Senate and governor in the 1980s and '90s.
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